Cop shows are all over TV, but I hadn't considered that webcomics might have a crime genre as well. It seems a little too normal and pedestrian for the Internet, where I'd expect to see stuff more like wacky nerd humor, crazy boy-love drama, or epic fantasy adventures. It's out there, though, with creators trying their best to make the subject matter appeal to the younger and edgier audiences on the web. So, it's time for me to do some reading and see what they came up with.
Creators: Jordan Clark, JJ Hernandez
This is one of the most difficult webcomics to review that I've come across since it's both awesome and terrible at the same time. The creators had the clever idea to focus on the psychological effects of making the competitive protagonist team up with a superior robot partner. I really enjoyed seeing the depth they give to this otherwise stereotypical tough guy as his jealousy and pettiness is exposed. We witness his core identity as a top-notch FBI agent built up and then shattered in a short time span as he becomes basically like a sidekick to his new superhero-ish coworker. The self-contained, TV-style plots are entertaining, but it's the agent's struggles with his emotions and sense of humanity that are the most memorable part of the story. His romance with a nerdy female coworker is also handled really well, as the agent's macho image melts away into a mess of awkward nervousness, and there's a clear sense of attraction between the two that develops slowly and delicately. There's a refreshing sense of contrast and vulnerability when the agent's in a dangerous street race in one scene, and then in another scene he's asking a female agent for advice because he's afraid to ask his crush out on a date. And, of course, the webcomic relates to the problem of robots replacing people in the workforce, which seems to be a more and more relevant concern every day, so it covers an important topical issue sort of like The Black Wall does.
I wish I could end the section here and give the writing 5 out of 5 Donuts, but, unfortunately...I hated reading this comic. There are tons of grammar and spelling mistakes, punctuation's completely optional, and a lot of the comic's lettered in chicken-scratch handwriting. Even the title of the first chapter, "Digital Age," is misspelled as "Digial Age." Worst of all, there are times when the comic "glitches out" and the sentences get scrambled.
I assumed that the creators were foreign and were having trouble with English, but, nope, they both live in the US. It's a text-heavy webcomic, too, and I had to read it slowly because of the sloppy handwriting and the other problems. It gets somewhat better when the writer eventually starts digitally lettering the comic himself, but at that point the damage had already been done. As good as the concept is, I could never recommend this webcomic because the dialogue's so poorly written and unnatural. In addition, the robot's ability to change his personality and speaking style, which is one of the coolest ideas in the comic, gets ruined because of the stiff dialogue.
The art's a mixed bag as well. It's pretty solid most of the time, with good action scenes, a variety of angles, and a unique style, but then other times it seems lazy and unfocused. City scenes are the most notable examples, as you'll get a shot of a crowded sidewalk, and then there'll be a wide shot without a single pedestrian. It's like something out of The Walking Dead. Backgrounds are optional, with shots of cars and people floating in white space.
And then, bizarrely, at one point the comic switches to a flashback that's done in pencil-only and in a goofy-looking style.
I was almost ready to forgive the comic's shortcomings before I got to that scene, but it just emphasizes how inconsistent the artwork is. The webcomic could've been great if the creators had just put a little bit more effort into it, and that's ultimately what makes it such a disappointment.
Webcomic: Bison Bay
Creators: Ed Cidade, Drezz Rodriguez, Michael Smilek
This webcomic is really fast-paced, and you can tell that it was scripted specifically for the web. It seems like each issue is only around ten or twelve pages, with scenes alternating between the detective trying to solve a case and him trying to save his marriage from falling apart. I think most webcartoonists would mess this up by just putting one long, dramatic breakup scene in the middle of the story, but this way it always feels like the main plot is progressing and moving towards its conclusion. I also really like how the detective is torn between his civic duty and his commitment to his wife, with the opening scene where his partner gets killed underscoring how dangerous his job is. Like in ReWRITE, you get a situation where the protagonist is highly successful in his career but privately feels unsatisfied with it, and these moments of fragility and weakness stand out to me more than the heroic crime-solving stuff.
Unlike ReWRITE, though, the dialogue's awesome, and I can't get enough of the old-timey speech. People refer to each other as stuff like "doll," "fella," "bub," and "broad," and it might not seem like a big deal, but it really made me feel like I was watching an old-school black-and-white movie. A good example in particular is when a character casually refers to a "negro family," as it helps readers feel immersed in the 1940s setting. There's also a lot of cursing and informal language, and it successfully gets you into the mind of this jaded, weary individual whose daily life revolves around crime and murder. Regardless of what's going on plotwise, the scenes are a pleasure to read just because the dialogue is so different from what you'd normally expect to see in a webcomic.
The art could be better, as the figures are kind of blobby at times, but the creator at least puts in the effort to make the setting look like a noir environment. It's pretty hard to do since you have to be able to get the lighting and shadows right, and it's time-consuming to make the scenes seem gritty and realistic. Still, just as with ReWRITE, I would've preferred to see more consistency with the level of background detail. The comic does have a pretty unique style, though, and it looks really good when the creator does give a scene some extra attention.
Webcomic: Detective Headache
Creator: Steve Sluzalek
I don't mean to keep bringing up Tales of Hammerfist, but this is basically just a worse version of it. The protagonist is a buff meathead who punches monsters, and...that's about it. Not only is the characterization and plot terrible, but the dialogue's really stiff and full of errors. The creator's German, though, so it's kind of excusable, and the writing's actually more coherent than the American-made ReWRITE. The main problem that stands out to me, though, is that I can't tell what tone the creator's going for. I'm guessing it was originally intended to be a goofy parody, but most of the time it just seems like some kind of bad action-drama-noir hybrid, and there's barely anything humorous in the comic. There's even this super-dramatic part where Headache finds out his pregnant wife was murdered, and it's just like that scene from Max Payne I brought up in my 13 Coins review.
Since I'm focusing on relationships in this post, I have to bring up how poorly the protagonist's relationship with his female partner's handled. On what seems like the next day after Headache finds out his wife's dead, the partner moves in to kiss him on the lips, and it's, like...really? The context suggests she knows about what happened to his wife, so the timing seems really forced and unrealistic. Also, romantic tension's supposed to be built up gradually, but the kiss happens less than twenty pages after the partner's introduced in the story. Finally, she's described as someone who "can seriously kick some major ass," but Headache suddenly ditches her before the big fight at the end, and it isn't explained well why he does it. It would've been better if the creator didn't bother with a romantic subplot at all rather than trying to quickly squeeze one in after the action scenes.
The art's decent, and the fight sequences are definitely the best part of the webcomic. Headache is well-designed in that his oversized torso and arms add a much-needed touch of goofiness to the pages. There's a loose, cartoonish, and almost sketchy style that works well most of the time, but it can be too loose and messy in pages where the creator was clearly in a rush. Like, the city in the story's named Noir City, and sometimes the comic uses a lot of details, shadows, and dark colors to give the setting a noir look, but then other times things are bright and minimalistic. And like in ReWRITE, you get these confusing “ghost city” pages where there's a busy sidewalk in one panel and then no signs of life whatsoever in the wider shots. It seems like the creator's still figuring out how he wants Noir City to look, and it would've been better if he had a more coherent vision for his setting.
Overall: Much like how webcartoonists reject the print industry's obsession with superheroes, they also reject mainstream American culture's obsession with crime dramas. ReWRITE's more of a sci-fi story, Bison Bay's a noir, and Detective Headache is...uh, whatever it is, and you don't see the same kind of focus on crime and justice as you'd expect from a popular TV series. I can see where these creators are coming from: the media's already saturated with cop movies and shows, so the Internet's a great place for people to experiment and try out new directions to take the genre in. It didn't work out that well with ReWRITE and Detective Headache, but Bison Bay's a lot of fun to read, even if its "new direction" is really just reusing an old style.
|Scores (out of 5)|
Hold on, though. It's not really fair to only show the cops' side of the genre, so let's acknowledge all the hardworking criminals out there by adding Henchgirl to this post.
Creator: Kristen Gudsnuk
Starring a broke, immature, and somewhat chubby underdog, the comic tries its best to get readers to sympathize with a protagonist who has questionable morals. It's important that Henchgirl and her friends are young millennials, though, as the comic has a sense of childish innocence that makes the characters seem more mischievous than sinister. After all, their struggle to find legitimate work is something a lot of readers can relate to, and it's not that hard to understand Henchgirl's desire to go on exciting heists at night instead of settling for some dead-end minimum-wage job. I'm unsure whether or not I'd label her as a "decent person," though, and I appreciate how the webcomic presents her flaws and negative qualities in an honest way.
That said, the main reason to read this comic is to see Henchgirl's awkward romance with the dorky superhero Mannequin. I think what makes the relationship work so well is that the creator's been developing it really slowly and patiently, so it never seems forced that two enemies become attracted to each other. The comic also shows them both as being people with unfulfilling lives who get their thrills from dressing up in costumes and going out to the streets at night, so they're actually pretty similar even though they have different value systems. But a lot of it too is just that they're lonely people who have to hide their real identities from everyone, and it's relieving for them to get to be genuine with someone for a change. It's one of the weirdest relationships I've seen in a webcomic, but at the same time it totally makes sense for two incompatible people to get together like this.
The art's awesome, and it only gets better as the comic progresses. While the style's generally really cartoony, the creator started adding more realistic drawings as a kind of playful contrast, and it's not only really funny, but it helps distinguish Henchgirl from other webcomics with cartoonish art. It seems like nearly every panel in this comic has some kind of visual gag going on, whether it's a silly facial expression, an abrupt style change, some exaggerated pose, or clever background details, and it's great that there's so much going on beyond the speech bubbles. And speaking of speech bubbles, while the dialogue's great, the creator really tries to emphasize the art and keep dialogue to a minimum, and it helps a lot to make the comic feel fast-paced and fun. I know it sounds dumb to say that I don't like to read stuff, but it's more of a quality-over-quantity thing.
Overall: Henchgirl blends together elements of the crime, humor, and romance genres, and it's amazing that the creator's able to pull it off so smoothly. I think a lot of it just comes down to the pacing, as there's a perfect flow between the clever main story, the complex romantic subplot, and the cast's goofy antics. The comic's also a great example of the right way to do a superhero parody, which is something I've seen a lot of other webcomic creators fail at. This is a really entertaining and unique comic that has something to offer for every webcomic reader.
|Scores (out of 5)|